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Japan's 'Miracle' Suzuki takes darts world by storm
DESCRIBED as the Phil Taylor of women's darts, Japan's Mikuru Suzuki already has plans to dominate the sport after becoming the first Asian player to capture a world title.
The deadeye 37-year-old - known as "The Miracle" in a play on her first name - is slowly getting used to her new celebrity status following a shock victory at the BDO world championship in January.
"It really didn't sink in until I got back to Japan. There were fans waiting for me at the airport holding a banner," Suzuki told AFP in an interview.
"That's when it first hit me, the scale of what I had achieved - it was a dream come true. Being called world champion is special but I don't want to stop at one world title, I want to win many more."
Suzuki did not drop a set on her way to the title in a blur of tungsten trickery that darts legend Taylor would have been proud of.
Her 3-0 blowout of Englishwoman Lorraine Winstanley in the final, which included a 148 checkout and back-to-back 180s, capped a magical week at Lakeside for Japan's darts sensation.
A late bloomer in a game once associated with beer bellies and smoky pubs, Suzuki began playing darts at 26 and admits she didn't always pack such a punch.
The bubbly Shikoku native, who worked in a department store selling clothes and cosmetics before her unorthodox career switch.
"But that's what got me hooked - I was determined to make the darts fly straight. Though I never thought I would turn pro."
Her family also took a dim view of her decision to take up a sport little known in Japan beyond gaudy darts bars with flashing electronic boards.
"My parents were worried about me earning enough money to eat," she said. "For a while I didn't win a thing."
Ten years on, the outlook is rosier, although Suzuki screws up her nose at comparisons to 16-time world champion Taylor.
"I think that's a bit of a stretch," she said with a laugh. "Phil Taylor is a god in the world of darts - he was such an amazing player."
"But I think Peter Wright is cool," Suzuki said of the flamboyant Scotsman, famous for his rainbow mohican. "I love his antics and the way he connects with fans," she said.
With her bleach-blonde hair, Suzuki has a signature style of her own, bouncing onto the stage to the music from the popular children's song Baby Shark before tearing into her rivals.
She followed her world title with further success at the Dutch Open, winning both the singles and doubles, alongside Yuriko Yamaguchi.
With only some 1,600 professional players in Japan, and less than 350 of them women, darts has yet to enter the mainstream in the baseball-mad country.
But Suzuki, who has climbed to third in the World Darts Federation rankings, hopes to provide the spark for a new generation of female players, insisting the sport has cleaned up its beer-swilling reputation.
"I've seen videos of former players like Eric Bristow holding a cigarette while they threw," she said. "Darts has a much cooler image now. I would like to be able to inspire other women in Japan to take it up. I'm sure we will see more female players from Asia in the future."
Life has changed for Suzuki since winning the world title, but she promises there is more to come.
"The biggest thing is that people outside of Japan know my name now," she said. "But I want to play professionally for another 20 years, so there's still room for improvement. There's a lot more I want to achieve." AFP